Advanced Manufacturing Opportunities Fuel Workforce Training in Arkansas

 August 21, 2018

Technological advancements have been a driving force behind the recent resurgence of the manufacturing industry across the U.S. Through the development of automation, robotics and advanced manufacturing, factories have become more high-tech, efficient operations. As the industry has evolved, the workforce has also had to evolve to keep pace.

While automation may have eliminated some jobs, other safer and higher-paying jobs are emerging from the new technology, equipment and strategies. And, for every manufacturing job created, another three to four supporting jobs emerge.

Although there have always been high-paying job opportunities in the industry, the new equipment, technology and concepts within the industrial manufacturing environment have led to a shift in the skills workers need to make it all happen. The resulting “skills gap” became a challenge for manufacturing companies. There is a generation of retiring workers with a breadth of knowledge and experience that is irreplaceable. On the other hand, there is a growing, young workforce who is tech-savvy and can maximize today’s advanced equipment and techniques.

The optimal solution for any company is to have a mix of the two groups on staff. To create this ideal mix, smart industrial hiring decision-makers are starting early to seek out potential employees with the right credentials for short-term effectiveness and long-term growth potential. When it comes to finding young talent, technical, vocational and skills-based schools, as well as two- and four-year degree programs, are great places to start.

Arkansas has become a breeding ground for tech talent thanks to a variety of training programs and educational opportunities. As new and existing industries grow, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) assists them with workforce needs through various training programs. AEDC also provides valuable connections with other state agencies and serves as a liaison to the state’s education system, ensuring that training needs are effectively addressed. AEDC’s Manufacturing Solutions division works closely with many public and private organizations to bring world-class guidance, training and resources to Arkansas manufacturers. Statewide initiatives and partnerships include the Arkansas Career Readiness Certificate, the Modern Workplace Program and the Arkansas Institute for Performance.

One unique program is training talent before they even graduate from high school. It isn’t often that industry is involved in the development of K-12 curriculum, but that’s the case for the new advanced manufacturing pilot program at North Little Rock High School in Arkansas. Students can now get hands-on training that prepares them for careers or post-secondary education while also receiving industry certifications that make the transition smoother. The program is the first and only manufacturing curriculum pilot in the state and also touts a unique approach to industry engagement and future plans for offering concurrent college credits.

The Arkansas Delta Training and Education Consortium was created by five Arkansas community colleges in eastern Arkansas to use their collective resources to address current and future training needs of business and industry. The program includes curriculum development and the acquisition of faculty and equipment to create a career pathway in advanced manufacturing and to provide training and education to existing and emerging manufacturing industries in the Arkansas Delta region. As a result, four regional skills centers in Arkansas were created to support manufacturing training specialization.

Several Arkansas colleges offer certificate programs for manufacturing technology. Arkansas State University’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology Program teaches students the skills they need for today’s manufacturing facilities and machine shops. During the 10-month program, students receive hands-on experience in computer numerically controlled machines, computer-aided design and drafting, and machining. North Arkansas College's Manufacturing Technology Certificate Program is designed to provide training necessary to obtain a position in the Machine Tool Technology industry. Students learn safety in the workplace, the basics of blueprint reading, technical math skills, manual M and G code writing, computer numeric controlled machinery set up and operation, machine tool routine maintenance, decision making and problem solving skills, and managing a career in the manufacturing technology industry.

As the manufacturing industry continues to change and evolve, job training will have to run a parallel path. Factories are cleaner, more efficient, technology-driven operations built for high performance, productivity and worker satisfaction. For those looking to start or build their career in manufacturing, now is a great time to learn about the new factory environment, including all of the excitement and potential for development.

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